This time in 2008, choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot changed the course of history for Pacific Northwest Ballet. With Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette in PNB’s repertoire, the company now had the perfect Valentine’s Day ballet to go with The Nutcracker at Christmas. Its bold infusion of frank sensuality with gorgeous pas de deux left mouths agape — one moment Juliette was arcing backward, held aloft by her Roméo, the next, hands were everywhere!
Five years later, the stars of that fiery ’08 production, who dance now with the Maillot-led Ballets de Monte-Carlo, are returning for a one-night-only reprise on February 9, and tickets are already scarce.
The show runs through February 10 at McCaw Hall, and PNB is fielding three sets of Roméos and Juliettes of its own: Kaori Nakamura and (freshly minted principal dancer) James Moore, Carla Körbes and Seth Orza, and Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand. Nakamura and Moore danced opening night last Friday, with Moore playing Roméo as a kid from the neighborhood rather than a romantic icon. This could happen to anyone, he suggests. Nakamura’s Juliette, pixieish, light as a butterfly, is his uptown girl.
At the ball where they meet, against the ponderous menace of Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” — conductor Emil de Cou and the orchestra conjuring up a weightily mailed fist — Maillot develops the home life that Juliette is escaping from: an authoritarian Lady Capulet (Lindsi Dec) who’s molded Tybalt (Batkhurel Bold) into an adopted enforcer, the son she’d have preferred to have had. Juliette, you get the sense, was left to her nurse (Rachel Foster). In her “mad” scene, as Lady Capulet swirls, limbs shooting out, hair whipping (Dec somehow remains in one piece), it’s less about a wounded Tybalt as it is wounded narcissism.
Seen a second time, more and more of Maillot’s choreography falls into place, deepening the relationships between characters. The concept for the production is summed up in an anguished Friar Laurence’s (Karel Cruz) dance with a möbius strip — no matter how he tries to nudge the couple’s path away from disaster, his good intentions are warped by some balancing influence that pushes back. It’s in the nature of things; when Roméo and Juliette dance, palm to palm, their hands oscillate.
You also see Lady Capulet’s imprint on Juliette — where her mother annexes space with a hyper-extended goose step, Juliette tests the air before her as she goes, trying to tread grandly but still young and uncertain. When Nakamura, in a slip of glittering gold gown (the ravishing costumes from Jérôme Kaplan still take your breath away), steps out, it’s winsome and fragile.
Jonathan Porretta once again steals a large chunk of the show with his irrepressible, boundlessly energetic Mercutio, for whom Batkhurel’s stolid Tybalt makes a perfect foil. Porretta literally dances circles around him, while executing high-spirited little kicks. Porretta’s randy run-in with Rachel Foster’s Nurse (happily, Foster doesn’t try to play an old fossil) is another comic highlight. Kylee Kitchens pulls off the feat of being a memorable Rosaline — the girl Roméo adores before he’s met Juliette.
The set, costumes (PNB made their own, updated versions for this production), and lighting are integral to this Roméo et Juliette‘s impact. That gold dress is beautiful, but it also reminds you of gold wrapping paper, with Juliette as a present for some lucky, eligible suitor. Things ceaselessly pivot in identity: a love bed’s sheet becomes a shroud, the love bed itself, a catafalque. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set, a series of curved blank panels and a descending slash of walkway-balcony, is painted and transformed by Dominique Drillot’s lighting — stark, abstract bars appear on Juliette’s room’s wall, underscoring her bird in a gilded cage existence.